Strictly civvies for PLA's off-duty soldiers

Chris Yeung

THE People's Liberation Army (PLA) is set to ban troops stationed in Hongkong after 1997 from wearing their uniforms outside barracks when they are off duty.

Mainland sources said yesterday it was not necessary for Chinese soldiers to wear their uniforms when they went out after work.

PLA troops stationed in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) will follow the same after-hours dress rules governing the British Garrison.

A senior PLA official said in Beijing last week Chinese troops would be stationed in urban and rural areas in the SAR.

The Hongkong co-convenor of the sub-group on security matters under the SAR working panel, Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, said Hongkong people did not want to see groups of uniformed PLA soldiers hanging around shops or streets in central areas.

She said the issue had been raised at a sub-group meeting of the first plenum of the Preliminary Working Committee for the SAR Preparatory Committee, which ended in Beijing on Saturday.

''Although the British Garrison is stationed in central areas now, we never see uniformed soldiers walking around Mongkok, Tsim Sha Tsui or Central.

''We had expressed the hope that off-duty [PLA] officers would not wear their uniforms when they go out off their barracks.

''They understand our feelings and said they would consider our demands,'' Mrs Fan said.

The sub-group's members included Xu Huizi, the deputy chief of staff of the PLA, who is believed to be a key official in charge of the PLA's post-1997 deployment.

Mrs Fan said a request had also been made for an inspection tour of military camps where training courses for officers to be sent to Hongkong after 1997 were being carried out.

''They said they would consider our proposal,'' she said.

The former executive and legislative councillor said her Hongkong colleagues had suggested more should be done in the run-up to 1997 to increase mutual understanding between the Chinese military and the people of Hongkong.

''We think it will be beneficial to both sides . . . But we have not come up with any specific measures. That will be further discussed when we meet again later this year,'' Mrs Fan said.

She said the size of Chinese forces in the SAR had no direct relation to fears among Hongkong people about uniformed PLA officers walking around the streets.

Given that the central Government would have to foot the bill for its troops in Hongkong, Mrs Fan said: ''I think Beijing does not want to have a huge establishment unless it is really needed.'' She said China had taken note of local anxiety over the PLA deployment.

A source said the total establishment of the PLA troops for the SAR would be about 10,000, but the actual number of soldiers based in the territory would be ''a few thousand''.

The others would be stationed in Guangdong and sent to the territory whenever necessary. He said the troops would be deployed on a rotation basis.

Mr Xu has declined to specify the size of the PLA deployment.

Another source said there were no fixed criteria for determining the size of the deployment.

because there could be many changes in the next four years.

The source said the British Garrison's pull-out plan had no implications for the PLA deployment plan, or the Joint Liaison Group's talks on the use of existing military sites.

''The British troops' withdrawal did not come as unexpected. Anyway, they have to go gradually . . . I don't think the Chinese side will have any dissenting views on that,'' he said.